Public hearing held for new hospital project

A public hearing, which was held at 8 p.m. Monday, June 27, at Sabetha City Hall, it drew a small crowd of 13 Sabetha patrons and five hospital representatives. Present for the hearing was Sabetha Community Hospital (SCH) CEO Dr. James Longabaugh; SCH COO Garrett Colglazier; and representatives from the HFG Architecture firm, including David Wright and TJ Siemons. Sabetha patrons present were Mary Ryan, Tom Gudenkauf, Susan Gudenkauf, Tony Gudenkauf, Dar Stoller, Arden Stoller, Jason Enneking, Nick Aberle, Jim Scoby, Shawn Weldin, Bethany Streeter, Zach Goodman and Kate Goodman.

Notice for the public hearing was given in The Seneca Courier-Tribune on Wednesday, June 8. According to the legal notice, the public hearing was being held “in regard to the request for alternative delivery procurement i.e., construction management at-risk, for the proposed replacement hospital project at the Sabetha Community Hospital.”

Discussion

Dr. Longabaugh opened the public hearing by explaining this was the first of multiple public hearings about the new hospital project. Dr. Longabaugh introduced Wright to the crowd, who said the Sabetha Community Hospital board “recently voted for an authorized use of construction managers.” 

“It’s an alternative selection process to where we go through an interview process to hire the construction manager,” Wright said. “That process will get started here pretty quickly. Part of the process is to submit some fee information and then they also substantiate some minimum base qualifications for hospital construction, because hospital construction is very complicated. The purpose of tonight is so the public can comment on the use of that selection process.”

Tony Gudenkauf started off the public comment section by asking why the notice of the public hearing wasn’t placed in The Sabetha Herald.

“Because the Seneca paper is the official county paper,” Wright said.

“It’s still sneaky, don’t you think?” Tony Gudenkauf said. “If that is how you conduct your daily business, that is saying something. It affects us here,” he said. “You could put it here, so we know.”

Tony Gudenkauf also said the county raised taxes on us to help the hospital “because we were going to close the hospitals.”

“Everybody was scared, save our hospital, otherwise we got to drive to Topeka,” Tony Gudenkauf said. “Let’s see, you’re [Sabetha Community Hospital] is adding on. Seneca is adding on. I know right well after we raised the taxes, you got more than enough raise, than ever before. Usually it’s 15 cents. No, this was 10 percent of their wages. That was to save the hospital. Now we’re adding on. Where are we getting this money? Either you didn’t need the money, or COVID was paying out pretty good, wasn’t it? So, now you can just take the land from the city and now they have to go build. We’re going to have to pay for a new building. Now we’re going to tear down a perfectly good building that the city is using, to build a new one wherever.”

Jim Scoby, owner of Hearthside Country Store, said “the taxes that are raised in Sabetha are higher than any town around us.”

“It hurts business,” Scoby said. “Why are we building a new building, when the doctors we have here are driving business away? There are any number of people that have switched doctors, because of actions taken by the doctors here. We have a perfectly good building and I hate to see it go.”

Susan Gudenkauf, owner of Downtown Coffee, Hattie Ann’s Attic and P&J Trash, said the prices of her products at her businesses and her utilities are higher than they used to be.

“Now, you’re going to tell us when the economy has tanked and the trash service we own, we used to pay $4,500 a month for diesel. It is $11,000 to $12,000 a month now,” Susan Gudenkauf said. “Now, you’re going to build a $38 million hospital and take the land from the city and make them build at least a $750,000 building, and you’re going to say, ‘I’m not affected by this,’ but I am. I have no money to give my staff raises, let alone pay more in property tax, that I can’t afford to begin with right now with all of the expenses. I understand down the road as a nurse, we may need this hospital, but do we have to do it right at this point in time? When the economy is crap and you don’t know what’s going to happen with the world. You want to go and add all this money onto the taxpayers. I understand you’re saying the $38 million isn’t going to be on the taxpayers, but the $750,000 for a building will be on the taxpayers. Drive down our street. We can’t even afford to fix our streets. Now, you want us to build a new building instead. How do you justify the need at this given time?”

D. Stoller said staffing seems to be a problem.

“The AC Home, the hospital and the wellness center, they all need employees and staffing seems to be a problem,” D. Stoller said. “Will a bigger hospital call for more staffing and if so, could that become an issue?”

Then, Siemons addressed the construction manager at risk process.

“The construction manager at risk process is the reason for meeting here,” Siemons said. “It is something that will help aid in getting some of these questions answered, especially as we try to sort through what the concerns are and be able to put together answers for things about the financials. That seems to be a recurring topic here. But it allows us to get that put together so we can get the submittal in for USDA. That is a loan process with the government, and will allow us to get to a point where we can have a construction manager assess us what the actual cost of a building is going to be. Right now, it is a preliminary.”

Wright added that the use of the construction manager at risk is to “try to actually give us more precise information early, so we don’t have surprises about cost later.”

“That is the primary reason you use it, so you get more accurate estimating up front,” Wright said.

Z. Goodman asked what the timeline was on the project.

“The construction manager process can be a couple of months,” Siemons said. “What we are trying to plan on, is it would be awarded to a construction manager company by mid-September.”

Wright added that construction would hopefully begin in spring 2023.

“Are the taxpayers supposed to pay for the demolition of the city building?” Z. Goodman said.

“That is part of the overall construction process, the demolition,” Dr. Longabaugh said.

“So, the hospital will eat that cost?” Z. Goodman said.

“Yes,” Dr. Longabaugh said.

Streeter, a hospital employee, asked why the public hearing wasn’t made available on SCH’s Facebook page.

“That is where we put everything else about the hospital,” Streeter said. “Anything to do with the hospital, that is where I learn about it. I looked at my hospital email at 7:05 p.m. and had no idea this meeting was happening. As an employee of the hospital, I feel like this would be very important for hospital employees to be at.” Streeter said.

Wright said he felt like there is education that “needs to happen” as this process moves forward.

“This is not the place to do that,” Wright said. “This is a procedural step that we needed to go through to meet the State’s guidelines for construction manager at risk. I think there ought to be highly publicized community meetings.”

“We have three, four business owners here, out of the whole town of Sabetha,” Streeter said. “People who have lived here their whole lives, who have businesses that are built here centuries, they don’t have a say here. They don’t have any questions they can ask you guys. When are we going to get answers from our questions, like Tony, Susan and Jim asked really good questions. When will we get feedback?”

“This is a small community and not a big city,” Z. Goodman said. “That’s how we communicate here, word of mouth. So, when it gets posted in Seneca as it is supposed to legally. I understand that this meeting isn’t the one that is getting everyone upset, but we’re still talking about the destruction of the old building, and who eats that cost. That is relevant to the taxpayers. So, it isn’t so much that there needs to be posted over there, it’s more the perception that you did it over there, you’re hiding something here. That could potentially get people upset. I know you guys are good at communicating. I feel like [you should] just be more open about it.”

Streeter asked if local contractors would be able to be utilized for the project.

Wright said he has had some local contractors, as well as contractors from Topeka, Manhattan, Wichita and Kansas City, show interest in the project.

“The company will be able to advertise for bids all around, and whoever wants to bid can bid on various aspects [of the project],” Wright said. “But there will be a maximum price and the construction manager at risk will compile all the bids and be able to pick out, within various parameters, what is the lowest bid.”

Wright also said that once the Request For Proposals (RFPs) are open, it will be about a six week long process. 

Aberle asked Wright and Siemons if attending this meeting hinged on the City Commissioners approving the project at the 6 p.m. meeting.

“If the council hadn’t passed giving the lot to start the loan process, would this meeting still have occurred?” Aberle said. “From my seat, it’s lucky that we are all Seneca paper subscribers, who figured this out, but for me to sit up there for an hour, and you guys knowing that you’re going to have this meeting, and I don’t put it on you two [Wright an Siemons]. I put it on CEO [Dr. Longabaugh] and COO [Colglazier] to let the five of us sit up there and deliberate and berate some of us, each other, on this topic, which you know is sensitive, then to not have the courtesy to tell us there is a public hearing in two hours. It pisses me off. If we had not passed a motion, vaguely stating that we’re giving you that property for free, would that have any impact on this meeting at 8 o’clock?”

“This meeting [the public hearing] was actually my purpose for coming here,” Wright said. “I sat up here for the 6 o’clock meeting because I was already here, but TJ is up here all week long for meetings.”

“So, for that notice to be in that paper, it is a two week notice process?” Aberle said.

“Yes, it is,” Wright said.

“I know it has been said before, but the City of Sabetha, we obviously have our paper of record, but I think you need to step it up in that category,” Aberle said. “I think that if you are having a public hearing on a construction manager at risk, and people have to find out about it in a different paper, because they happen to read the paper, but it was nowhere else, there are multiple avenues. It could be on MSC News. It could be on Facebook. I think you can do better.”

“This is all good input, and we were meeting a legal requirement, and that was an oversight on our part, to not have gotten it published in both papers,” Wright said. “Certainly, publishing bids and communicating with the public at large here, I would definitely think any of that we would have a broad audience.”

Scoby asked how long HFG Architecture has been on the SCH project.

“I wrote the contract for the project three to four months ago,” Wright said. “We got authorized in the last month or two to start this process, but before that, we did master planning for the hospital in the last two to three years. Before that, we have done master planning a few decades ago. So, we’ve worked in the community over the past 20 years.”

“How many architects did you contact to get designs and ideas?” Scoby said.

“That was before my time,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I can’t answer that question right now. I don’t have that information here.”

“Could you get that?” Scoby said.

“I will do my best,” Dr. Longabaugh said.

The next public hearing about the hospital project has not been announced yet, but Dr. Longabaugh said it would be put in more than one location.

Heather Stewart213 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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